Verdict 2018

Wooing Voters in 2019: Some Takeaways from December 2018

Congress President Rahul Gandhi at the party headquarters in New Delhi, Tuesday, December 11, 2018.

In December 2018, five Indian States went to the polls to elect representatives to their Legislative Assemblies. The results of these elections, some six months before the term of the Sixteenth Lok Sabha ends, are a timely expression of public opinion on the issues to be addressed by political parties – both all-India and regional – in a diverse democratic nation that is riven by majoritarian politics, ignoring serious issues such as economic inequalities and rural-urban divides. If the results reminded all-India parties of the consequences of ignoring State-specific issues, they provided regional parties an unexpected reality check on their potential to make, or unmake, victors. One key takeaway is that all-India parties would have to negotiate political space with regional parties to make substantive electoral gains. With India scheduled to elect its Seventeenth Lok Sabha in mid-2019, Smita Gupta, Senior Fellow, The Hindu Centre for Politics and Public Policy, turns the spotlight on the key lessons delivered by India’s voters to its political class through the elections to five State Legislative Assemblies. In this analysis, she provides insights into voter behaviour in three Hindi-speaking States and one each in the north east and the south. Rural wrath, urban discontent, rumblings within the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, and the need for the Opposition parties to come to an understanding at the States, she points out, are some important issues that should engage the attention of India’s political parties as they prepare to woo the voter in 2019.

“Perhaps democracies get invigorated, not by grand narratives, but the elixir of change itself. This election restores the balance of power in Indian democracy, and gives it an opportunity to find its true measure.”

                                                     —Pratap Bhanu Mehta1

In the December 2018 Assembly Elections held in five States, the most significant results came in from the three Hindi heartland States - Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Rajasthan - where the Congress defeated, in direct contests the party that conclusively replaced it in 2014 as the principal pole of Indian politics: the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). In the other two States, two regional parties, the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) and the Mizo National Front (MNF) trounced the Congress: in Telangana, the TRS retained power; in Mizoram, the MNF unseated the Congress. In both, however, the BJP remained on the fringes, with its 2014 score of five in Telangana sliding down to one.

For the Congress and Rahul Gandhi, who completed one year as party president on December 11, the day the results came in, these elections could not have been more momentous. They announced that the Congress was still in the game, though a long distance away from regaining its old position as India’s dominant political power. For the BJP and Narendra Modi, who had wielded absolute power for four-and-a-half years—retaining, winning or forming governments, even engineering a few post-government formation coups, in no less than 142 States  since coming to power in 2014—the results were a body blow: a proclamation that Modi’s BJP could be defeated.

The victory of the regional parties in two of the five States that had gone to the polls symbolised a reassurance to other similar formations that they continued to matter in Indian politics, and would remain relevant wherever, and whenever, the two major national parties failed to address regional aspirations.

As a barometer of public mood, the poll results set the stage for the all-important national electoral battle next year.

Indeed, these elections—spread across a great swathe of the country, a State in the north east, a major part of the Hindi heartland, and the newest State in the south—provided the perfect occasion for a critical political test for the two principal national parties, the BJP and the Congress. By acting as a barometer of the public mood, the poll results have now set the stage for the all-important national electoral battle next year.

A possible return of coalition politics

They suggest the return of the era of coalition politics at the Centre in 2019, similar to what the country witnessed between 1998 and 2014: during those years, a coalition government first headed by the BJP, and then by the Congress came to power — both were dependent for their parliamentary majority on smaller parties. Even the latest issue of Panchajanya, the Hindi weekly of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) from which the BJP takes its ideological inspiration, predicts a “hung Lok Sabha” and then mourns  this possible outcome as one “that would imply political instability”.3

Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) Chief K. Chandrasekhar Rao. Photo: PTI

A third possibility, that it might be a United Front-style government, formed by a small party with a big rump, such as when the Congress backed H.D. Deve Gowda’s Janata Dal between 1996 and 1998, or as functioning currently in Karnataka4, seems unlikely. In private conversations, most leaders of smaller parties, despite their public posturing, emphasise the need for stability of government, and, therefore, agree that the largest party in any coalition should lead it. This is not to say that leaders like the Trinamool Congress (TMC)’s Mamata Banerjee, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP)’s Mayawati and now even the Telugu Desam Party (TDP)’s Nara Chandrababu Naidu do not nurse ambitions of becoming Prime Minister one day.

A Congress MP, close to the leadership, when asked about the possibility of the ‘Karnataka model’ being replicated at the Centre said, “It is unlikely, but if it were to happen, we [the Congress] would have the first right of refusal.”5 On the BJP side of the fence, such an arrangement seems even less likely.

For the Congress, its hat trick in the Hindi heartland has revived hope that the party is on its way to recovering lost ground—and lost glory. Rahul Gandhi may not have produced an alternative “grand narrative”, but the “elixir of change” has re-energised the party faithful in a way unimaginable till recently.6

For the BJP, its failure to hold what it considers its bastion has had leaders calling for “introspection” as Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley phrased it, it is time for ‘chintan’ (brainstorming) and ‘manthan’ (churning) again, and a return to the drawing board. By debunking the myth that Modi’s BJP was invincible, it has re-awakened self-belief not just in the Congress but in the smaller parties across the political spectrum, both in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) camp as well as in that of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). 

Not surprisingly, this restoration of “the balance of power in Indian democracy”, as Pratap Bhanu Mehta describes it, has triggered a series of serious questions for the various political parties. 

  • Is the BJP’s dream of winning a second term at the Centre still possible?
  • Can the Congress resurrect itself, or should these election results be attributed merely to anti-incumbency?
  • How important will the regional/small parties be in the new political matrix?
  • Will the Hindutva project, and its many violent manifestations, still be the BJP’s Brahmastra?
  • Or can the Congress neutralise it with its soft saffron version? 

The answers to these questions will emerge in the next few months as parties respond to the changed political map, in which three saffron (BJP) States in the middle of India have turned green (Congress).

Reading the Assembly results

An extrapolation based on the results of these Assembly Elections, would indicate that the BJP could lose as many as 327 Lok Sabha seats from Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Rajasthan alone. With a majority of opposition parties taking heart from these results and determined to see the back of the party, the general elections next year will definitely see State-level non-BJP alliances in the rest of the Hindi heartland, especially in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, where the BJP’s graph is already plummeting. The Samajwadi Party (SP), the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) have already decided to contest next year’s Lok Sabha polls from Uttar Pradesh together: even without the Congress, this alliance has the capacity to bring down the BJP’s current tally in the State by 50 seats.

In all, the BJP is almost sure to lose around 90 seats from the above five States in this region alone, where it is the strongest. It also stands to lose in Gujarat, where it won all 26 seats in 2014: the Congress’s good showing in the Assembly polls in 2017 would suggest that. Similarly, the numbers are likely to change in favour of the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) combine in Maharashtra, where the BJP won 22 seats out of 48 in 2014, with its partner, the Shiv Sena, adding another 18 to the tally.

The BJP is also unlikely to be able to compensate for these losses either in south India, where it barely exists outside Karnataka, or from the gains BJP president Amit Shah talks of making in the north east, West Bengal, and Odisha. In Andhra Pradesh in 2014, it won two seats out of 20 and in Telangana one out of 17. The situation for the party has not improved since; and the alliance it had with the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) no longer exists. In Karnataka, it won 16 of the 27 seats in 2014  and it is more likely to lose than gain seats here, given the Congress-Janata Dal-S combine is in power in the State. In Tamil Nadu, it won one seat out of 37 last time — a clever arrangement may bring a couple more seats. In Kerala, of the 20 seats, it got nothing and is unlikely to win anything this time, too.

In West Bengal, the BJP got two out of 42 seats last time, and in Odisha one out of 21 — the party should add in both States, but the handful more it will get will not make a substantial difference. And in the north east, of the 25 seats, the BJP already holds eight, all in Assam, its allies another four, the Congress six, the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) three, the Communist Party of India - Marxist (CPI-M) two, and an independent one. The BJP is likely to lose some seats in Assam to the Congress and AIUDF, and perhaps pick up a few in the smaller States and the two the CPI-M currently hold in Tripura. In the end, neither the BJP nor the Congress is likely to gain or lose much in the North East.

Though the BJP could lead a coalition, the nature of such a government would be very different from the present.

Of course, the BJP, even if under 200, could still be the single largest party and, in principle, form a government with the help of coalition partners. But the nature of such a government would be very different from the one that exists currently: for the BJP would no longer be able to ride roughshod over its allies as it is doing now, thanks to the absolute mandate it won in 2014. If the TDP8 had quit the BJP-led NDA in March this year, the Shiv Sena and the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), already unhappy with the BJP, have been even more vocal after the results came in.

The Sena said the BJP first “drove away” its allies and later lost important States, adding that elections cannot be won merely on the back of big talk.

“The results clearly show that Prime Minister Narendra Modi9 and (BJP president) Amit Shah's10 dream of making the country Congress-mukt has been reduced to dust in BJP's own regime. People of these states have indicated a 'BJP-mukt' regime,” Saamna, the party’s Marathi party organ said.11 

Congress State President Kamal Nath. Photo: PTI.

The SAD, too, delivered a sharp message: its Rajya Sabha MP Naresh Gujral warned the BJP that if it did not make peace with its allies in the NDA, it would be in big trouble in 201912: “I don't see any single political party getting over 200 seats in the next election,” he said during a recent discussion on NDTV, stressing, “…whoever makes the right pre-poll coalition is going to be the winner…So it's very important that BJP quickly settles with existing allies especially the Shiv Sena, deal with them with generosity and at the same time reach out to parties who were a part of the (Atal Bihari) Vajpayee rainbow coalition at one stage, so that you have a strong pre-poll coalition in place before 2019.”

The Congress, on its part, apart from the 35-odd additional seats it may win in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chattisgarh, could quite easily add another 50 to its 2014 tally through effective alliances forged in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, and Maharashtra, and an end to inner party feuds in Assam, Gujarat, Haryana, and Punjab.

To get a respectable number in UP, the Congress needs to build alliances even in States where it has a presence.

In the recent elections in the three Hindi heartland States the Congress, in its bid to rejuvenate its cadres in an area in which it has a formidable presence decided to go it alone risking the wrath of important allies, the SP and the BSP, parties that hold the keys to Uttar Pradesh, which sends 80 MPs. It needs to appease these allies, and participate in alliance-building even in States where it has a presence, including Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Rajasthan, to get a respectable share in Uttar Pradesh, so that its own numbers rise from its 2014 score of 44 to around 130. This is not an impossible goal.

Understanding the message of the polls

If the BJP was mentally prepared to be defeated in Rajasthan because of the unpopularity of former Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje—who, in the end, lost the State only narrowly—the party’s Chief Ministers in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, and Raman Singh, were projected as the most admired leaders of their respective states.

Congress leaders Ashok Gehlot (R) and Sachin Pilot. Photo: PTI.

Yet, in Chhattisgarh, where the Ajit Jogi-led Janata Congress Chhattisgarh (JCC)-BSP combine was expected to cut into Congress votes, the latter won with a two-thirds majority. Later, analysis of the results have shown that had the JCC-BSP alliance not been in the fray, the BJP would have won just three of the 90 seats.  In short, in Chhattisgarh, it was a rout. In the other two States, the Congress had the edge, but the two parties were more evenly matched.

For the BJP, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Rajasthan are the first States that it was in power, and has lost since it won the general elections of 2014. It is, therefore, cause for great anxiety in the party, especially as it comes a year after it squeaked through in another BJP citadel, Gujarat, where it had ruled for an unbroken 19 years, when it went to the polls in 2017. Not just that, Modi, who derives his strength from Gujarat, was its Chief Minister for 12 years and eight months before he became Prime Minister. Clearly, the BJP is as prone to anti-incumbency as any other party.

Rural wrath, urban erosion, and internal rumblings

Most ground analyses of the reasons for the BJP’s defeat in the current batch of heartland States suggest that the rural economy has been hit severely by demonetisation, while losses in urban areas can be attributed to the implementation of the Goods and Services Act (GST) and the failure to create employment.

 “… building roads, houses and toilets or providing access to electricity, LPG and broadband connectivity — isn’t enough…For rural voters, incomes count as much, if not more. ‘Incomes’ not rising, due to low crop prices and stagnating wages, has more than offset any ‘asset’ gains in the recent period, which also probably explains the party’s heavy losses in the three states it ruled, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Chhattisgarh,” explains journalist Harish Damodaran13, adding that “along with lower income growth, farmers have also experienced deterioration in terms of trade”.

A marked decline in rural wage growth for agricultural and non-agricultural occupations has also been observed after 2014-’15, with the average yearly increase about 5.2 per cent in nominal terms, slightly more the corresponding rise of 4.9 per cent in the rural consumer price index, pointing to a virtual stagnation in real rural wages. If a decrease in the outlay for the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) has reduced employment opportunities, low crop prices have reduced the demand for farm labour. A “sluggish economy has led to a drying up of job opportunities for rural migrant workers, especially in sectors such as construction, real estate and manufacturing”.14 This, interestingly, Damodaran writes, “is in contrast to the UPA period, which witnessed double-digit rural wage growth on the back of a booming farm as well as non-farm economy”.

In the post-demonetisation period, crop prices have been more prone to falling than rising incomes under stress. Investing in public and household assets without creating jobs and incomes meant poor rural families were not in a position to pay for power or refilling of gas cylinders.15

In another analysis, Neelanjan Sircar has used data from the 2011 Census to demonstrate that the BJP’s strike rate (the percentage of seats it wins among those it is contesting) across both urban and rural constituencies in these three States has fallen between 2013 and 2018. He writes:

“The results spell trouble for the BJP. In Gujarat, too, there was a significant erosion of support among farmers, but the BJP largely held its urban vote banks and won the state. But Gujarat is a highly urbanised state, while much of the Hindi belt is still engaged in agriculture and a party cannot hope to win these [S]tates without significant support from the farming community. More worryingly for the BJP, its erosion of support seems to have spread to urban areas as well. This shows that disenchantment with the BJP cuts across demographic groups.”16

The central question, therefore, being debated  within the BJP— not in party forums but in offline conversations — is whether the loss of the three Hindi heartland States should be laid only at the doors of the three Chief Ministers or whether they should also be attributed to the policies of the Union government. Reports from within the party would suggest that there is a realisation that the negative impact of demonetisation and GST is as — if not more — responsible for the results. For this reason, a post-mortem is unlikely, according to BJP sources, “because these policies were laid out as the signposts of the BJP's economic ‘vision’ ”.17

The central question for the BJP is whether the loss of three Hindi heartland States is also a result of its national policies.

A report that quoted P. Muralidhar Rao, BJP general secretary and Rajasthan poll in-charge, saying that “efforts by Amit Shah and Modiji helped the party put up a good show in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan,” also cited a senior BJP national office bearer stressing,

“Just as they (Modi-Shah) take the entire credit for the wins, they should share the blame, too. If the BJP leadership thinks the PM’s popularity is intact, it is making a huge mistake. That was clear from the crowd that his rallies drew in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan.”18

If in earlier elections, BJP spokespersons would exult that once Modi began to campaign, the mood would change in favour of the party, this time, his was a relative low-key role: in the three Hindi heartland States, he neither figured in too many posters (that were dominated by pictures of the three BJP Chief Ministers); he also addressed only 31 rallies, seen by many as premonition that the party would fare poorly.

Even as private conversations are taking place within the BJP, Kishore Tiwari, a prominent RSS figure, has demanded that the RSS replace Prime Minister Modi with Union Minister Nitin Gadkari if the BJP wishes to win the 2019 general elections.  Tiwari is also a farmer leader from Maharashtra, who holds ministerial status in the State as the chairman of the State-government panel, Vasantrao Naik Sheti Swavalamban Mission (VNSSM). In a letter dated December 11 to RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat and General Secretary Bhaiyyaji Suresh Joshi, he wrote that the BJP had lost the three Hindi heartland States because of its “arrogant leaders” who took “devastating” decisions such as demonetisation, GST, and hiked fuel prices.

“Leaders who pursue an extremist and dictatorial attitude in the party and government are dangerous for the society and the country... This has been witnessed before and if history is not to be repeated, hand over the reins to Gadkari for the 2019 polls,” Tiwari has written.19

BJP president Amit Shah, too, came in for criticism in the letter.

If Modi thus far got the lion’s share of the credit for the party’s successes, now, he is being held responsible for its failures, though not always in public.

Catch 22 for BJP

Despite these rumblings in the BJP and RSS about Modi’s suitability to helm the campaign for the next general elections, the leaderships of the two organisations want to protect his image as a saviour at all costs as they believe his persona still holds the key to the BJP returning to power in 2019.

In its first issue after the recent state elections, The Organiser, the RSS’s English organ, praised Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his policies, and described him as still being a “vote-catcher” for the BJP. There is no “anti-Modi” sentiment, it said, and even though the “agrarian distress” was “real”, the real reason for the BJP’s defeat was that it was “caught up in the problematic turf of false narratives on the reservation issue and anger from both sides”.20 Though the Organiser editorially stressed that “PM Modi and his development policies are indeed the vote-catchers for the BJP”, significantly, it also said,

“but the glue that binds the core is Hindutva…The real challenge for the BJP is how to present the development and Hindutva as complementary to each other under the leadership of Modi…Ram temple, gauvansh (cow), Article 370 and 35 A— they may not be issues of development but they are integral parts of BJP’s manifesto with which sentiments of BJP supporters are deeply connected.”21

There were echoes of these sentiments when the BJP’s parliamentary wing met on December 18: Modi and  Shah (the two men who are being targeted by many in the party and RSS), surprisingly stayed away and the customary briefing was made by Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on the Triple Talaq Ordinance and the Rafale deal, only to be greeted by belligerent MPs who wanted to know what the party planned to do about the Ram Temple issue. According to one account of the meeting,

“Many MPs, in off-the-record conversations, have been saying the BJP should join in with the RSS and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) that have launched a campaign for a Ram temple at the disputed site…A large section of the MPs are also of the view that the government should put its weight behind the private member Bill moved by nominated Rajya Sabha member, Rakesh Sinha, for the temple.”22

But there is a flip side to the view that winning the next general elections will hinge on hard-line Hindutva: after all, in the recently concluded elections, the party had deployed the rabble-rousing, controversial Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath as its star campaigner, who addressed 71 election rallies while Modi addressed just 31. Evidently, Adityanath’s toxic, anti-Muslim rhetoric did not cast the spell it did in the Uttar Pradesh elections of 2017.

Meanwhile, the Congress, in these elections, in its bid to shed its “pro-minority” image went out on a limb to “correct” a view that has been exploited by the BJP to its advantage for many years. Gandhi did not just visit a range of temples and religious leaders; he publicly declared his gotra and identified himself as a janeudhari  Brahmin. The party’s manifesto for Madhya Pradesh included a whole host of entries on cow protection, and even promised to promote cow urine. The aggressive marketing of Gandhi as a religious Hindu may have sat awkwardly with the ideals of the freedom struggle and the “idea of India”, indeed, even with the pluralism promoted by the Sonia Gandhi-Manmohan Singh duo. But it apparently did no harm to the party, not even with the Muslims, whose first priority currently is to see the BJP unseated.

So much so that it has even jolted the RSS. In an editorial in the most recent issue of The Organiser, it says,

“The core ideological plank (of Hindutva) becomes all the more critical when the Congress is trying to shed away its ‘secular’ and ‘pro-minority’ image by playing the counter version of ‘Hinduism’.”

The Congress’s next step

Gandhi’s born-again brand of Hinduism, which echoes what both his grandmother Indira Gandhi and father Rajiv Gandhi practised, may be of concern to the RSS. But it may not be enough to push the party’s achievable score of 130 in the next general elections to a number that will put it ahead of the BJP. For that, a well-thought out alliance, or rather, State-level alliances, bound by a set of common ideas will be necessary. The Congress and other opposition parties are conscious of this. Indeed, a day before the winter session of Parliament commenced—that coincided with the counting of votes after the Assembly polls—leaders of major opposition parties met in the national capital. The most significant announcement in the press statement that was released after the meeting was:

“In the course of the next few months we will place before the people of the country, a comprehensive programme of work anchored in complete transparency and accountability.”

In short, a common pre-poll programme.

Indeed, what is becoming clear is that even though the seat-sharing arrangements that the opposition parties will make will be State-specific, and it will not project one leader but a range of leaders, it will have a pre-poll agenda for governance. In 2004, when the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) came to power, the Congress may have stitched together State-specific alliances before the elections, but its Common Minimum Programme (CMP) came only after it had formed a government at the Centre. A senior Congress leader said, “This time, we will have a pre-poll agenda, on to which all the parties will sign on, ahead of the elections.”

At the meeting on December 10, while those present included the Congress, the Nationalist Congress Party, the Trinamool Congress, the CPI-M, the Communist Party of India, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham (DMK), the TDP, the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Janata Dal-S, the National Conference, the RLD, the two that were conspicuous by their absence were the SP and the BSP, parties critical to the defeat of the BJP in Uttar Pradesh: a State with 80 Lok Sabha MPs.

With the Congress not having yielded space to the two parties in the Hindi heartland States, the SP and the BSP are upset. Realising this, Gandhi struck a conciliatory note when asked why the two parties had chosen to stay away:

"It is a process and we will do it in an open and transparent process. We respect all parties, big or small, and want all leaders to be part of this exercise and take on the BJP-RSS and save the country and institutions”.23

The process is unlikely to be smooth: on December 16, DMK chief Stalin’s proposal at a rally in Chennai that Gandhi should be named the grand alliance’s prime ministerial candidate, was publicly rejected by Banerjee, SP chief Akhilesh Yadav, and the Left. But equally, the Congress, well aware of the reservations of the other parties to declaring Gandhi as their joint PM candidate, will not insist on such a condition. But the fact that Stalin made such an announcement suggests that Gandhi—after his party’s dramatic electoral victories—is being taken more seriously. In the end, these parties will hang together for two reasons—power and ideology—and what will matter is how far they succeed in fielding a single Opposition candidate against that of the BJP or its allies.

[Smita Gupta, Senior Fellow, The Hindu Centre for Politics and Public Policy, was until recently Associate Editor, The Hindu, New Delhi. In a journalistic career spanning 38 years, she has covered all major political parties, the Prime Minister's Office, the Indian Parliament, and national and State elections, especially in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and Gujarat.

In 1992-93, she was a Reuter Fellow at Oxford University, U.K. During her year at Oxford, she wrote a long paper on The Emergence of the Far Right in West Europe. She has contributed chapters in academic books on the Bharatiya Janata Party, the politics of Uttar Pradesh, and Parliament. She holds an M.A. degree from Delhi University. She can be contacted at  [email protected]].


[All URLs were last accessed on December 22, 2018]

1. Mehta, P. B. 2018. "Hope and Humility", The Indian Express, December 12. []. Return To text.

2. Since 2014, the BJP has retained Gujarat; wrested Himachal Pradesh, Haryana,Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Assam and Tripura on its own; won Maharashtra, Jharkhand with pre-poll allies; formed governments with post-poll partners in Goa, Manipur and Jammu and Kashmir (the last named has collapsed since); and effected coups in Bihar and Arunachal Pradesh. Return to Text.

3. Ahmad, F. 2018. "Modi on the mat: RSS mouthpiece predicts a ‘Hung House’", National Herald, December 20. []. Return to Text.

4. The Congress, though the larger party, is the junior partner in the Janata Dal-Secular-led government. Return to Text.

5. Private conversation with a senior Congress MP. Return to Text.

6. On December 11 evening, as the results were pouring in, a senior national level party functionary, when asked how many women MLAs had ben elected, said, “We are not counting MLAs any longer, we are counting chief ministers.” Return to Text.

7. Kanwal, R. 2018. "BJP staring at losses of up to 32 Lok Sabha seats in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh", India Today, December 13. []. Return to Text.

8. PTI. 2018. "TDP quits NDA, moves a no-confidence motion against Modi govt", The Hindu BusinessLine, March 16. []. Return to Text.

9. The Times of India. 2018. “Narendra Modi” December 22. []. Return to Text.

10. The Times of India. 2018. “Amit Shah”, December 22. []. Return to Text.

11. National Herald. 2018. "Shiv Sena says BJP’s debacle in the assembly polls has paved way for a BJP mukt Bharat", December 12. []. Return to Text.

12. Ghosh, D. 2018. ""You Won't Get Even 200 Seats If...": Ally Warns BJP After Poll Losses", NDTV, December 13. []. Return to Text.

13. Damodaran, H. 2018. "LPG, toilet, house: BJP built solid rural assets but income didn’t rise", The Indian Express, December 12.  []. Return to Text.

14. Ibid. Return to Text.

15. Ibid. Return to Text.

16. Sircar, N. 2018. "BJP strike rate drops in both rural, urban areas", Hindustan Times, December 12. []. Return to Text.

17. Ramaseshan, R. 2018. "Election results 2018: BJP cuts its losses as Congress revives in heartland", Business Standard, December 11. []. Return to Text.

18. Mathew, L. 2018. "Rumbling in BJP: Just as they take credit, top should share blame too", The Indian Express, December 12. []. Return to Text.

19. IANS. 2018. "Replace Narendra Modi with Nitin Gadkari: Maharashtra leader tells RSS", The Economic Times, December 18. []. Return to Text.

20. This is a reference to the way The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act was first diluted by the Modi government under pressure from the upper castes, thus annoying the SCs/STs, and then re-strengthened to appease the SCs/STs, thus angering the upper castes. This was a theme that played out in the state elections, particularly in Madhya Pradesh. Return to Text.

21. Verma, L. 2018. "RSS mouthpiece on election results: ‘BJP was caught up in problematic turf of false narratives on quota issue’", The Indian Express, December 18. []. Return to Text.

22. Shrivastava, R. 2018. "Ram mandir issue echoes at BJP parliamentary meeting, leaders ask top brass tough questions", India Today, December 18. []. Return to Text.

23. Sanyal, A. 2018. "21 Parties At Key Opposition Meet, A Surprise Entry, 2 Drop Outs", NDTV, December 10.  []. Return to Text.

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